For sail in Bristol: Part history, part seamanship


For sailing enthusiasts, the name "Herreshoff" is often the topic of conversation in reference to the high quality wooden yachts crossing oceans and finish lines.

But for local boaters who want to experience both sailing and sailing history, crossing Bristol Harbor is an education in both seamanship and turn-of-the-18th century craftsmanship.

Built for the children of wealthy yacht owners, the 12.5-foot sloops, Swallow, Bonita and Hurrah were moved smoothly through the choppy waters of Bristol Harbor on Wednesday, July 30, as part of the adult sailing program offered through the Herreshoff Marine Museum Sailing School. From June through August, sailing and history share the cockpit discussion inside the 16.5-foot hull, as does the timeless enjoyment of being on the water on a warm summer evening.

Program director Maria (pronounced, ‘Mariah’) Powell is familiar with sailing the wooden boats, and is glad to be part of a program that sustains a time often overshadowed by fiberglass and composite made craft. On the water, the century-old boats are sailed as much with TLC as they are with an understanding of their limitations.

“Treat them like your grandmother,” Ms. Powell said of the philosophy taught on the wooden craft. “My dad owns a couple of Herreshoffs, so I grew up around that mentality.”

Minus the complex systems of pulleys, lines and sheets used to sail larger and faster vessels, the students aboard the Herreshoff sloops become familiar with recognizing and using wind direction and the basics of tacking, while understanding the parts of the boats and their design.

“There’s definitely a different feel on a wooden boat than a fiberglass one. You need to listen to the boat,” she said.

The sailing program, offered to children and adults, with a special session offered for women (women also have their own class at Bristol Yacht Club), is part of the ongoing presence that the Herreshoff line continues in Bristol. Halsey Herreshoff, grandson of the late Captain Natanael Greene Herreshoff, continues to design world class wooden yachts and offers lectures on the family history of sailing. And inside the marine museum at 1 Burnside st., more than 50 wooden boats dating back to the 1800s are on display, a reminder of the significance that Bristol played and continues to play in the sailing industry.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.